When Surrey Police wanted to link its Automatic Number Plate Recognition technology, deployed in mobile ANPR vans, to live criminal intelligence databases – so that it could identify and catch stolen vehicles, and apprehend vehicles driven by suspects escaping crime scenes – integrated satellite broadband-based solutions from Excelerate Technology gave them the power to do it.
Excelerate Technology delivered a solution that gives Surrey Police officers access to powerful, fast mobile satellite broadband in the field, allowing them to achieve lightning fast access to national and local police computer databases. By being able to identify, within seconds, suspect vehicles travelling throughout the county or coming into the county from other counties, and operating in conjunction with police cars located close by, the force is now able to apprehend suspect vehicles within a few minutes of being identified.
A vehicle driven by a well-known criminal, a murder suspect, or a car thief, passes by an unmarked Automatic Number Plate Recognition vehicle operated by Surrey Police’s ANPR team. Within seconds the number plate has been scanned, recognised on a hot list, and an alarm registered on-screen by an operator. Within a few more seconds a police car parked a few hundred yards along the road has been alerted by the ANPR van operator and the vehicle pursued. Shortly afterwards the vehicle of interest has been stopped and the suspect apprehended. The criminal, presumably, does not know what has hit him.
This is the reality of modern day policing supported by hugely powerful technologies, such as mobile satellite broadband, Automatic Number Plate Recognition systems and integrated computer databases. But the impact of mobile satellite broadband, combined with these and other technologies, goes far beyond apprehending vehicles involved in the commission of crimes, and the impact, according to Paul Palmer, head of Surrey Police’s ANPR team, has been ‘massive”.
‘Our ANPR strategy is “Operation Shield – protecting our border and communities”,’ says Paul, ‘which is basically a ring of steel in the shape of ANPR cameras around our borders. There are around 35 sites with about 150 cameras. There are also a few tactical ones within the county, and then we complement that with our mobile ANPR strategy. If anyone is going to come into the county to commit crime then we can pick them up at the borders. With our home-grown criminals we can pick them up fairly quickly within the county and find out what they are up to.
‘We use the systems in several ways. For intercept, for example, when a vehicle passes through our cameras and matches against the hot list it sets an alarm off if there is a match. That alarm appears on our screen within 4 to 6 seconds. The camera scans the number plate, gets it into a readable form and then matches it against a hot list of known vehicles of interest held within the van. If it finds a match that alarm shows up on the screen in front of the operator who puts the information out immediately to the intercept teams waiting short distance along the road. They will pounce on the unsuspecting driver and deal accordingly.
‘On another screen we can have all the fixed sites running, so if we are in a particular area, say in the northern part of the county, We can place the mobile system within the area without the fixed site cameras and still monitor the fixed site cameras and vastly expand our area of operation and deployment opportunities, also if something big comes in we can deploy to it straight away.’
‘When we are out on a dedicated operation we have units that are just waiting for those alarms to ping. In Surrey we have three dedicated teams taking on that kind of work. When the alarm goes off, our cars will be waiting for them. Our operators monitor the system all the time. When these vehicles come into Surrey they highlight them to us and then we go off and intercept them.
‘There are two ways the system updates during the day, one of the key benefits of using Excelerate’s mobile satellite broadband. If we upload from other forces it sends data out from the back office straight to the van.
‘The other thing that it does, with the Police National Computer, is if a vehicle comes through that has just recently been stolen – literally within minutes – and that has been placed on a lost/stolen marker, if that vehicle comes past our van, or a fixed site, the system will scan the loaded hot list. If it doesn’t find the number because it is so new it fires that index number off to the Police National Computer where it will find it in the fast track pool. So even if it is only a couple of minutes old the system will still pick it up. In terms of Surrey Police alone, in this last year we have had five markers come through for people potentially wanted for murder who were stopped and arrested.’
There is a convincing reason why Surrey Police has treated Automatic Number Plate Recognition and the supporting vehicles and technologies as such a high priority – proven success. ‘In Surrey, the reason we run our Operation Shield is based on evidence that nearly 40% of all crime that is committed in Surrey is committed by offenders who live outside the county. What we do know also is that if we have a higher crime area and my teams move into the area, crime decreases. Potential offenders see all the units in the area and disappear.
‘We operate two fully equipped ANPR vans, one marked and one unmarked, using the satellite technology to link into our systems. We can actually deploy our van into an area where we have no cameras, also using the satellite technology, and we can look at all the fixed sites around us as well. We have one slightly older van, the marked van, which we have upgraded, with newer cameras and technology. With the Olympics coming up we can deploy the two vans together.
‘The most recent van was our unmarked van, which came online about a year ago, and we have been having some great success with it.
It needs just one person to operate it and it is very straightforward. The only time we need extra personnel is if we are on a very busy site, such as a motorway, where we can expect to be really busy. To set the equipment up is a one-person operation.
‘In Surrey we adopted the technology in 2001 and that was just in the shape of a van. We have evolved as a force, along with all the other regions, where we have gone from just mobile technology to fixed site technology running 24/7, taking on the criminal elements and the antisocial drivers who drive without insurance and no driving licence on a 24/7 basis. It is having a major impact.
‘You can put the mobile vans into areas that you perhaps wouldn’t need coverage of all year round. You may have major events on where you need that technology, and you can put a mini ‘Ring of Steel’ in place.
One other key benefit delivered by satellite broadband enabled vehicles is in the field of mobile incident command. The ANPR vehicles can be used to complement the force’s new mobile command vehicle (also equipped with mobile satellite broadband and other solutions from Excelerate Technology).
‘We use the mobile technology for mobile command posts. So if we have a major incident, or any type of incident that is protracted, we can take out the vehicles and use it to access all the functionalities within our computer system at the roadside. You can use it as a forward control point, for example. For particularly serious incidents, such as a hit-and-run fatal collision, we have used the ANPR vehicle, or the command bus as we can access our computer systems through the satellite, we can have the ANPR cameras running to catch potential witnesses, and indeed offenders who may return to the scene just to see what is going on.
‘With Excelerate, if we have a problem their engineers come out very quickly. But we tend not to have too many issues. That is testimony to the quality of service that we have had. The functionality is better. We have used GSM cards and 3G in the past, but the functionality is limited. With the satellite it is like running your desktop computer from you office.
‘It has vastly improved the way we operate as a team as before we would operate as an independent unit just using the van. Now we can open that up to all our fixed sites and use the van at the same time, and, indeed, use it as an office. We have actually got a mini control room, because we have all of our radio systems located in the vehicle also. With satellite technology we can access all of our desktop systems. So we spend less time in the office and more time out on deployments dealing with the people we should be dealing with.
‘If we run an operation we can plug extra laptops in. In fact we can actually house our intelligence teams in the van with us, whereas before we couldn’t, they would be sat in an office somewhere remote. Now they can deal with things instantaneously. It is helping to speed up the tempo of our operations and it makes it more professional.’
See also how Gwent Police were able to manage a massive sporting tournament – the 2010 Ryder Cup – with a small force of officers using body worn cameras and two Excelerate-enabled mobile command vehicles.